North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Center: Minimal Activity Observed

A 38 North exclusive with analysis by Frank V. Pabian, Jack Liu and Jenny Town

Commercial satellite imagery of North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center through late July indicates operations have likely continued at the Uranium Enrichment Plant (UEP), while normal vehicular movements and dredging of the Kuryong River continues near the reactors.

Uranium Enrichment Complex

The white tanker trailer that was last observed near the far west end of the Uranium Enrichment Plant on March 27 was not present on either of the two more recent images, but the time gaps between imagery acquisitions preclude definitive conclusions on the frequency of arrivals and departures. A small light-toned object or vehicle was present inside the courtyard of the UEP until July 20, and while the purpose is unknown, it provides evidence of ongoing activity at the UEP.

Figure 1. Movement of possible tanker trailer observed from March-July around the Uranium Enrichment Complex.

Figure 1A. Movement of possible tanker trailer observed March 12, 2019, around the Uranium Enrichment Complex. Image Pleiades © CNES 2019, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]
Figure 1B. Movement of possible tanker trailer observed June 24, 2019, around the Uranium Enrichment Complex. Image Pleiades © CNES 2019, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]
Figure 1C. Minimal activity around the Uranium Enrichment Complex, July 20, 2019. Image Pleiades © CNES 2019, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]

Other Facilities

There are no visible operational indicators at the 5 MWe reactor, the Experimental Light Water Reactor (ELWR), or the Radiochemical Laboratory, but normal vehicle movements have been observed behind the 5 MWe reactor building, near the construction support yard of the ELWR, and in the Radiochemical Laboratory motor pool area. Some small objects/materials are observed in the receiving area of the Radiochemical Laboratory, but there were no stack emissions from the thermal plant or venting from the cooling tower.

Figure 2. Minimal activity and vehicle movement observed March-June around the 5 MWe reactor building and ELWR.

Dredging of the Kuryong River, which has been underway for more than a year, continues around the reactor areas and will presumably provide improved flow to the reactor cooling systems when complete.

At the Radioisotope Production Facility, there has been a slight movement of materials at the nearby buildings. The elevated conduit/power line is still in place, the purpose of which is unknown.

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